Photo by George Lauby
Photo by George Lauby
Photo by George Lauby
The legalization of marijuana is going nowhere in Lincoln County, if the candidates of county commissioner have their way.At a Farm Bureau forum April 17, all three candidates adamantly opposed the legalization of marijuana. That was their shortest answer in 45 minutes of rapid fire questions.
That, and that they are Republicans.
Members of the audience wrote questions on paper before the forum started. Candidates for the district 3 seat on the Lincoln County Commissioners – Ron Books, Bill Henry and Ken Main – fielded the questions from Jacque Harms of KNOP-TV. The candidates for legislature – Mike Groene, Roric Paulman and Scott Dulin – followed.
Nearly 100 people attended the public forum at the McKinley Education Center, getting a closer read of the candidates.
(The legislative candidates Q&A is in this week's print paper.) The county commissioner candidates said:
"I don’t worry about my opponents,” Bill Henry said about his qualifications. “I try to be the best I can be. I’ve run a number of businesses and been successful.”
“I also have less hair than my opponents,” he quipped.
Henry has fed cattle, operated a trucking company and a custom silage hauling operation.
Ron Books cited his experience as an Army Ranger with the principle to never leave a man behind. He said he is a fiscal conservative and a long time member of the Nebraska Highway Commission – an advisory board for the state department of roads.
“Roads are not everything the county does, but it’s one of the most important,” Books said. “If you live on a road, that road is important to you.”
Ken Main said he’s spent a lot of time on county roads too. He’s sold and hauled grain for 46 years. He noted that Lincoln County spends about $5 million a year on roads.
“That’s important, but we also have the law officers, jail, attorneys and public defender – that’s close to $5 million too,” he said.
Main added that the legalization of marijuana in Colorado drives up the cost of law enforcement.
Question: Should the county fund DevCo – the development arm of the city that offers incentives to bring new companies to town?
Henry – In general terms, yes. We have the dollars, we need to stretch them.
Books – Yes, it builds the tax base. Generally, there needs to be more cooperation in Nebraska.
Main – No, the county should not. DevCo needs to be funded by sales tax dollars. North Platte collects about $7 million in sales taxes.
Q: Should city and county services be combined to save money?
Main - There are 15-18 interlocal agreements now, and anytime expenses can be combined, he’s in favor of it.
Henry - Yes, combining services is absolutely a great way to save money. If we have a wheel, let’s turn it together.
Books - Yes. Last month the highway commission met in South Sioux City, toured several communities, and he was impressed with the things they do together to save tax dollars. “I would encourage Lincoln County officials to travel there and talk for a day. Their tax base is growing like mad.”
Q: Should the county jail take in state prisoners, to help deal with overcrowding at state prisons?
Henry - Yes, if the details can be worked out. Obviously the jail should be used to the maximum.
Books -Yes there is no reason not to use it, if we can recoup some tax dollars.
Main – Yes, and it should be left up to the sheriff. He has to have a certain number of cells available.
Q: What are your goals to move the people of Lincoln County forward together?
Books – We need to work together and cheer when something good happens. We need to think out of the box and innovate.
Main – Yes, we need to get more in touch with the villages. Sometimes they feel left out. There are 2,500 square miles in the county, and 1,600 miles of roads. I believe a better community of city and villages would be beneficial.
Henry – The secret is communication. We have to talk to each other, and more than that – listen to each other.
Q: What are your thoughts on the county budget?
Main - There are lots of departments and everyone has funding needs. Developing the budget takes 2-3 months. You have to have a sharp pencil to cut where you have to cut. Having business experience is tantamount to doing the job well.
Books – In budgeting, it’s a lot easier to do what we did last year, rather than starting from scratch each year and thinking about what needs to be done. Starting from scratch takes time and energy, but sometimes it needs to be done.
Henry – Obvoiusly, budgeting is more about doing what is right than making someone really happy.
Q: What would you do to reach to the outlying areas?
Henry – I lived my first years on the Garfield Table in the northeast corner of Lincoln County, and later years in the midst of the county. The big issue is communication. We tend to look at ourselves and feel sorry for ourselves. I have served on a lot of committees. When a decision is made, it should be made for the whole area.
Books – Last week I went to a village board meeting in Wallace. They said they haven’t seen a commissioner since the last election. I will set up a town hall meeting in each village at least three times a year. We will build a community to come together on how to make the best decisions.
Main – I think the villages are going downhill. Sutherland has kept up well, thanks to the ethanol plant. It is hard to set up a new business, deal with the regulations, pay the insurance and meet payroll. The good thing is that we have good roads to take us from point A to point B. Everyone is pretty much 20 minutes or less from North Platte, but it’s a tough situation in the villages.
Q: What do you think of the water farm and taking farmland off the tax rolls in Lincoln County?
Books – This is not my area of expertise, but when it comes to the tax rolls, it is an issue for everyone. Water will be a bigger and bigger issue. We need to get in the same room, set down and talk, and come up with solutions.
Main – I am totally against it.
Henry – I’m pretty well informed. We don’t like it. We don’t like it at all. It hurts Wallace in a big way and it hurts Dawson Public Power, which lost 100 wells, but it solves an almost unsolvable problem. We have worked several years on this to this point, and we haven’t really satisfied anyone.
Q: Do you think three commissioners (or five) are best?
Main – I’ve looked at both sides. Five commissioners cost more in wages, benefits and insurance. Some counties have five, but I’m comfortable with three.
Henry – I can’t justify five, but it would be nice, because two commissioners could talk things over, which they can’t do now because they are a quorum (and violate open meetings laws), but three good men can solve a lot of problems.
Books – I tend to be on the other side of the issue. I think we’d have better service with five. I would be in favor of five, but it’s not a burning issue. One time the three commissioners had to have an emergency meeting in the hospital.
Q: What are your priorities in office? Be reasonable and practical.
Books – From what I’ve seen, there is a lack of communication and representation. The feeling of not being represented is a real issue. We need to build trust and communication, have a positive attitude to grow the whole county.
Main – I’ve worked with villages and with the commissioners since the 1980s, with Maxwell, Brady on law enforcement and ambulance funding. I would use my experience to be a commissioner for the whole county, not just for district 3.
Henry – The county needs to be taken care of as a whole. The commissioners are the trustees of the county, including the courthouse, the jail, the sheriff and the roads. I think the priority is people working together. We’ll run the county. That’s the priority.
Q: What economic development do you foresee in the county, besides agriculture?
Main – I will have an open mind about what businesses might come in, in the city or the villages. You do your best to make it happen. Rail repair in Hershey is a good example of possibilities.
Henry – It is our advantage to focus on what we do best, and we do agriculture best. Agricultural byproducts would be my choice. We are rich in agriculture.
Books – We have good transportation, railroads and highways, which is good for agriculture. We are in a good location. Also we have a good medical community. We have doctors. Medical related businesses are high income, good cash flow businesses, and they help people here.
Q: What would you do to reduce the crime rate?
Henry – Obviously we have a pretty good sheriff. He is charged with this. Put on a little extra at graduation time and I think that will help hold malicious types of things down.
Books – There are grants for safety, to reduce illegal alcohol use, that we have to be aware of, and we have to have the attitude that we can fight it.
Main – It starts with the Legislature in Lincoln. Tougher laws would be a big improvement. The sheriff is adding more patrols for 2-3 weeks during graduation, but we need to strengthen the laws a bit.
Q: County budget – just right, too high or too low?
Books – That depends on who you ask. Obviously, the current administration decided it is what we need.
Main – I’ve researched the budget. Forty years ago, the county operated on $1 million a year. Now it’s $30 million.
Henry – Evidently it is what needs to be. We have to assume intelligent people have engineered it. The challenge is to use what we have to our best advantage. We don’t nee more. We just need to be better. I’m not liberal or conservative. I do well with what I have to work with. The budget is just right; we just have to make the best of it.
Books – Thanks for coming. Government affects us personally every day. I would love to use my experience to be a good representative.
Main – I am ready to go. I’m gung ho. I’m interested and passionate. My wife and I will celebrate our 56th anniversary this summer. I’m going to get after it.
Henry – I have several good years ahead of me. I have always had a desire to serve as a county commissioner, but I’ve felt we were well represented. With Willis Roethemeyer’s retirement, I’ve felt it’s time to run, with the encouragement of others. And I appreciate Farm Bureau, and what they’ve done. I’ve used their insurance.
This report was first published in the Bulletin's April 23 print edition.